Child Car Seat Safety Every Parent Needs to Know

Perhaps you’re expecting a baby? Congrats! Pandemics wait for no one it seems, and clearly for you there are some benefits to being home more often at the moment. One of them being you can read up about child car seat safety 😉

Or, perhaps you need to buy a new car seat for your young one? The market changes all the time so it’s clever to keep abreast of new information.

Maybe you’re not in the market but you’ve realised that you don’t know as much as you should about child car seat safety? You’re not alone – most parents aren’t fully worded up.

No matter whether you’re expecting or already a parent, we know you want to make the best and safest choices. It can be hard to choose when there are soooo many car seat options.

And unfortunately, it seems that when it comes to child car safety there’s still a lot of confusion out there. The research suggests that up to 70% of parents are incorrectly installing their car seats. That’s a huge percentage!

Another scary stat is that in Australia car accidents are one of the leading causes of injury and death of kids under 14.

So, we’re inviting you to buckle in for a refresher on child car seat safety.

In this blog we’ll cover:

  • The car seat laws in Australia (by age and size of the child)
  • The legal requirements for car seats and safe travelling with children
  • The safest practice for car seats and travelling with children
  • Where your child should sit in the car
  • Whether children can travel in utes and cars with one row of seats

Read Part 2 of this child car safety blog to find out more about choosing and installing your restraints and seatbelt safety.

Car Child Safety: The Laws in Australia

It makes sense that your child would have the best chance of avoiding injury or being killed in a car crash if they’re properly secured in an approved car seat. That’s why the laws state your child should be safely fastened in the correct child seat for their age and size.

No-brainer, right?

Unfortunately, research conducted by The Royal Children’s Hospital Melbourne (RCH) has found many Australian children aren’t travelling in the safest restraint or position in the car. If the survey is a true reflection of the ‘real world’, by the time most children are seven years old only 27% of parents are following the best and safest practice. Even though they think they’re following the law.

Why the confusion?

Age vs size

The law states which restraints are appropriate for your child based on their age.

Safest practice recommends restraints based on your child’s size.

For example, the law requires that babies travel in a rear-facing car seat or capsule for a minimum of six months. So, many parents move their babies from rear-facing position to forward-facing position at this time.

But it’s safest for your baby or infant to stay in a rear-facing position for as long as possible, until their shoulders are above the height markers on the car seat. And this can be right up until they’re two years old.

In other words, you should only progress your child to the next level when they’re too large for their current restraint as determined by their size. For example, children should be 145cm tall before they can leave their booster behind and travel safely using an adult seatbelt. Yet, according to the RCH, only 3% of parents know this.

Here’s a breakdown of the child seat recommendations for you.

Babies up to 6 months

Law: By law babies must travel in an approved rear-facing child car seat or capsule.

Recommendation: Once they reach six months you can choose to keep them in this position until they grow big enough for their shoulders to be above the height markers.

This is safest way to travel. In an accident, a rear-facing seat offers better protection of their head and neck and better chances of avoiding serious injury.

Babies and infants 6 months to 4 years

Law: By law, children should travel in an approved rear or forward-facing child car seat until they’re at least four years old.

Recommendation: Once your child is big enough to be restrained in a forward-facing seat with an inbuilt 5 or 6-point harness, they should remain in this seat until their shoulders are above the height markers and they’ve outgrown the seat. This is often well beyond the age of four years.

Children 4+ years

Law: By law, children aged from four years old but under seven years old should travel in an approved forward-facing child car seat with an inbuilt, 5 or 6-point harness or an approved booster seat.

Recommendation: A car restraint with the 5 or 6-point harness is safest until your child is too big for it, so they should only move from a forward-facing child car seat to a booster seat when their shoulders are above the height markers.

Be sure to check there aren’t other models of the same seat type they might fit, before progressing them into the next one. (For shopping tips read our next blog on child car seats).

When they’re ready for an approved booster seat, your child should stay in this seat in the rear of the car (not the front seat) until they are 145cm in height. For most children in Australia, this is at least 10+ years of age.

Note: While booster cushions are legal, they’ve been removed from the 2010 Australian Child Restraint Standard because they can’t be anchored to the car and don’t have the back support a full booster seat offers. Therefore, they don’t offer the same safety protection.

Children 145cm or taller

Law: By law, children aged from seven years and over who are 145cms or taller can use an adult lap-sash seatbelt without a booster seat.

It’s illegal to drive or travel in a car without a seatbelt that is properly adjusted and fastened.

It’s also illegal to share your seatbelt with another passenger (adult or child). Same as it’s illegal to carry your child on your lap in your car, even if you’re wearing a seatbelt.

Recommendation: Most children don’t reach 145cms in height until they’re approx. 10 years old. If a child under 145cm travels using just an adult seatbelt, they have an increased risk of injuries to the neck, spine, head, and abdominal organs in a crash because the seatbelt does not fit correctly.

Children from seven all the way up to sixteen years old who are too small for an adult seatbelt are strongly recommended to use an approved booster seat.

If you’re rushing inside to measure your child, we don’t blame you!

How Do You Know When Your Child is Ready to Move to the Next Child Car Seat?

Experts recommend that if you’re unsure whether your child is ready to travel using an adult lap sash seatbelt, then you should ask yourself these five questions:

  1. Can your child sit with their back firmly against the seat back?
  2. Are their knees able to bend comfortably over the front of the seat cushion?
  3. Can they sit with the sash belt across their mid-shoulder (and not neck)?
  4. Can they sit with the lap belt across the top of their thighs?
  5. Will they stay in this position for the whole car trip?

Did you answer a confident yes to all those questions? And is your child 145cm tall? Then they’re ready to use an adult seatbelt.

Buckling up property is a key part of Child Car Seat Safety

Where Should Your Child Sit in the Car?

Now you know which child safety seat your son or daughter should be using, you might be wondering where you should install it in your car.

Experts recommend that children under 12 years of age should not sit in the front seat of your car.

Why? Because airbags are designed to protect adults, not children. They can cause serious injury to kids sitting in the front seat. So, the best place for them to ride is in the back seat. This is the case no matter which type of restraint they’re using.

If, at a pinch, all your back seats are occupied by kids under seven, only then can a child between four and seven years old sit in the front. And if they do, they need to be in their forward-facing restraint or booster seat.

However, this isn’t recommended if it can be avoided.

Can children travel safely in a ute?

What happens if your only available car is a ute with a single row of seats? How does this affect child car seat safety?

The evidence is clear. Rear-facing capsules and child restraints should never be used in any front seats with active airbags. Research says your infant or child could be seriously injured or killed if they’re deployed.

However, if there’s no other option, a forward-facing restraint or booster seat can be used in the front seat. If you can, move the seat as far back away from any airbags as possible.

VicRoads’ advice for parents is that if your car only has one row of seats (e.g. a ute) you can use a child restraint or booster in the front seat. However, that’s on the condition it uses a seatbelt as part of the restraint. Plus, your ute must have an anchorage point for the top tether strap. Many utes don’t have adequate anchorage points, so please check.

Kidsafe recommends avoiding travel in cars/utes that don’t have appropriate forward-facing seats (some utes, like troopers, have side-facing seats) and appropriate fittings for child restraints to be installed.

If you can avoid travelling with your child in your ute, then that’s the safest option.

Where should they sit in the back of a car? The middle seat position is safest – because it’s furthest away from the sides of the car – provided you:

  • have a lap-sash seat belt to secure your child restraint or seat
  • the middle seat is level with the others (and not raised), and
  • the seat does not interfere with the driver’s or front passenger’s seat.

Failing that, the left-hand rear seat (behind the front passenger) is the next best option. Why? Because it allows easy access to buckle your child in from the kerb.

What about dual-cab utes, you ask?

Baby Drive’s research into dual-cab utes found some worrying loopholes, meaning that – despite their popularity – they’re not always the best family-friendly option.

Until November 2019, dual-cab utes were classed as commercial vehicles and weren’t regulated by the Australian Design Rule 34 (ADR34). So, their child seat anchorage points were often inadequate and potentially unsafe.

The good news is, the ADR34 has been updated to include light goods vehicles. Utes manufactured after November will be required to fit anchorage points that meet the standards.

Always check the fittings included in your ute before installing a child restraint in it. Read this review from Baby Drive on the easiest utes to fit child seats into.

Car Insurance Cover for Parents

Remember that as the driver, you won’t be covered by your insurance if you’re traveling illegally with your child. For example, we won’t cover you if you, “carry more passengers than permitted by law, loaded above the legal weight limit, or loaded in an illegal way.

Learning how to secure your kids safely won’t just give you peace of mind. It’ll help you ensure you’re driving within the law. So you’re covered in an accident.

Unsure? Just ask! We can help you find the best deal on your comprehensive car insurance while you’re at it, with a range of discounts including one for exclusive owners of their car.

Clearing up the Confusion

While the law is designed to cover every circumstance parents might find themselves in, it’s important to remember that it’s the starting point for best and safest practice. It’s not the be all and end all of child car safety. We hope we’ve cleared up some of the confusion around child safety, car seats and the law for you.

If you have another five minutes, please take the time to read part 2 of this blog.

Over to You – Child Car Seat Safety

Shopping for a new child car seat? At PD Insurance, we want you and your family to stay as happy and safe as possible, so if you learned anything by reading this blog, please share it with your friends. #staysafe with the right child car seat safety knowledge.

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